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Tech Industry interview shocker!

(names and some other information have been changed to protect the identity of the contributor)

Hello everyone.

For those of you that don't know me, I am ... The Mystery Writer!

But to give you a clue, I recently joined pRESPECT as a creative consultant.

Since I'm again at university AND since this is a company that helps people develop the skills they need to progress in their chosen careers, I have been applying for internships to some awfully big organisations in the IT, Finance and CyberSec departments.

So, I shall share what I have learnt and I shall share my experiences to back up some of my new knowledge. If you're in a hurry you can just take the next bit below as the conclusion and only read on WHEN you find my writing style hilarious and engaging.

Executive summary (Or conclusion in the wrong place):

What to take away from this?

  • Even the largest and most tech-based companies are very interested in soft skills in interviews.

  • They will assume that if you can get a good degree in an appropriate subject, then you'll be able to learn their systems from scratch.

  • They don't expect you to know what you're doing for the first 6 months (as an intern or newcomer to the field).

  • It sounds formulaic but tech employers, especially need you to be a team person. You have to be able to work amicably with your colleagues.

  • I need to study more networking and database.

  • It's easier to come across well if you have confidence in yourself as a person (rather than a techie).

  • Experiences gained outside of work are valued by the most successful companies.

  • You may want the job but don't let them know you need it.

The Application:

It ... is ... long.

Two organisations I have applied to required a pretty exhaustive online application and exhaustive work history. I mean seriously. I mean 10 years. No gaps.

That took 2 weeks - I have done a lot. And I forget things. Especially things like where I left my glasses - drives me nuts.

Every day.

I mean how difficult can it be to remember where I put them.



anyway, to continue.

The Application Part 2:

a)The video interview -

This can be in 2 main forms. Live or timed recording.

I didn't make it as far as the live for one organisation (see tech test for why), but the timed video one was ok in my case. They asked a question and gave 3 minutes to think of a response (google's great) and 1 minute to record it. Only one take for each question. I made a complete pig's ear of it so since I got to the next stage, I reckon this might be as much to see how you present yourself - I guess they were looking for a gibbering fool.

b)The tech test -

This was tricky. But they gave 1 month to complete it...

I kid you not. One month.

Sounds easy.

Probably would have been OK, if I wasn't also trying to complete 3 courseworks and prepare for 2 exams at the same time but nevertheless... it was tricky.

They used parts of the Immersive Labs online course to ask a series of graded questions around the whole field of CyberSec. It was great because it also taught some of what you needed.

But it didn't teach everything. I had to try to figure out modular mathematics... for just one task... it was tricky. I answered 37 out of 40 questions and ran out of time before the deadline. They wrote back and told me I was far too stupid to ever work with them and to please stop pestering them. Well, words to that effect. I'm going to apply again just to annoy them. Did I mention it was tricky?

The Interview:

So that was the application stage. For both organisations at least 3 months from start of process to interview.

I got through to interview with a company I shall call RackBlock (see what I did there?) in Edinburgh, and was given an online secure communications portal to choose my date. The date I chose was 24th Jan because that was the only one there. I had one week to attempt to figure out what they might be wanting and expecting. I won't go into too much detail about who they are but here's the link to their Abracadabra platform. This is the link for RackBlock itself.

If you clicked them you'll see the links don't say too much, so all I had to go on was that I knew they used Java and some Linux. I tried to brush up on my Bash Scripting and Java skills, but nothing was really sinking in and, on interview day, I found myself walking to what I was sure would be a ritual of corporate humiliation and the self-discovery that I can't pretend I know any IT at all. Imposter syndrome x 2.

RackBlock is a tech and investment company that has a portfolio over twice the size of the entire British economy. Having been brought up on dramatic depictions of corporate cruelty I was expecting something like Glengarry Glen Ross when I walked in. Thanks to my experience as an actor attending castings for roles as exulted as 'Man who gets shot and falls over quickly' - and being rejected, I was quite prepared to face the fear.

Of course, reality isn't as dramatic. Imagine my disappointment to be greeted with a smile and politely asked to wait in a comfortable reception suite in a smart but not too ostentatious office block. Imagine my shock as the day's events were laid out so that I wasn't too discombobulated (I love that word (although my favorite word is 'mud' (just saying))). Imagine my horror to discover that they weren't really interested in my tech skills so much as whether I would want to work in their environment. And imagine my disgust when they said they hoped that I would enjoy the experience. 'Enjoy the experience?!' I thought. 'I didn't come here to "enjoy the experience," I came here to be squeezed through the wringer, ripped apart, emotionally destroyed.'

Well, I endured two friendly interview sessions that were more of a chat with a few questions about Linux mostly; an observed group discussion about things we'd need in a survival situation; a very short test that was actually fairly tricky (I knew I should have swotted up on networking and database (well, I didn't know, otherwise I would have (obvs))); another group session with some of the previous interns and graduate employees, so that we'd learn a little about the reality of working for the company, and what we'd actually be doing, and finally, an interview with a manager who wanted to make sure that everyone else in the company had made me feel really good.

I hadn't felt so pampered outside of a 5* hotel.

I should reiterate that this was for an intern position and it would be a lot more intense if you were applying to actually write their code.

At least, I hope so.

Thank you very much.

Elvis has left the building.

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